Dragons in Paradise by Henry M. Morris, Ph.D.
In January 1993, three hikers in New Zealand’s Craigieburn Range (west of the city of Christchurch) reportedly saw a roughly 6 foot tall flightless bird.
They saw it at a distance of approximately 115 to 130 feet for about 30 seconds and managed to take a grainy photo before it ran off into the forest. They believe it was a moa.
Click and drag photo to resize. Script from The Java Script Source
The moas were a group of a dozen species of flightless birds closely related to the kiwi, and native to New Zealand. The species ranged from 3 feet to the tallest and bulkiest bird known to have existed at 10 to 12 feet tall.
The first humans known on the islands, the Maoris, arrived about 1000 years ago. The birds were believed to have become extinct before 1769 when the first Europeans arrived.
There were sporadic sightings in the 19th century, and although many expeditions looked for moas, no live or recently dead specimens were found.
New Zealand scientists admit a few birds may have survived into the 19th century, however a possible 20th century survival has been dismissed and sightings were generally ignored.
The three hikers explored the spot were the bird was seen and photographed what they believed were tracks it had left. They kept the sighting to themselves for two days until the 35mm film was developed and they could make an official report to the Department of Conservation (DOC).
The witnesses were apparently credible and the agency seemed impressed, making tentative plans for field work in the sighting area. Although DOC had developed a theoretical management plan for moas several years earlier, like true bureaucrats, they did no field work to follow up the report.
Some "Moa" Pictures for comparison:Click and drag photo to resize.
No one went to the site before rain washed away possible evidence such as footprints, dung, or feathers. Three days after the report was filed, five days after the sighting, the report was made public.
As readers may have guessed, there was an ensuing media circus, false allegations of one of the hikers being a practical joker were levied and serious scientific interest dried up. Many scientists appear to have a genuine phobia to public criticism that has repeatedly slowed confirmation of new discoveries and has crippled many investigations.
Independent photographic analysis by the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch shows promising results. The analysis confirmed the approximate size and distance by the hikers. The image was blurry, but three-dimensional– a silhouette cut out and a model of a moa had been ruled out.
There had been speculation that an emu or ostrich (both large and non-native birds) could have caused the sighting, but neither are large enough and no escaped emus or ostriches are known on the island.
The analysis also ruled out 4 legged animals such as red deer (introduced from Europe) or a llama (possibly escaped).
The conclusions were: it was a bird, a very large bird with a thickly feathered “neck” area. Photo analysis of the negative produced no further details. The DOC, which had already publicly denounced the sighting after the media uproar, finally expressed interest in examining the negative. However, the cameraman was understandably unreceptive to the organization.
As with many cryptozoology tales this one is inviting, tantalizing, and unresolved. The witnesses appear very reliable, however a blurry photograph, no matter how promising, can not be taken as hard proof.
Unfortunately, with the frequent advances in computer imaging techniques, soon a photograph may be no evidence at all.
For more details on the sighting, consult International Society of Cryptozoology Newsletter Vol. 11, No. 4.